Needles//Pins interview by Chris Mason

Needles//Pins

I officially met Vancouver, Canada’s Needes//Pins at Awesome Fest 7. We spent much of that night drinking in an alley behind the bar. I woke up Sunday morning sporting one of the worst hangovers of my life. I dragged myself out of my hotel bed just in time to make it to the early shows, but I was miserable. I couldn’t seem to spit out a coherent sentence, the thought of food or a beer made my stomach turn, and the loud music just made my head pound even harder. While the thought of retreating to my comfy hotel bed, drawing the shades, and giving up on the day sounded appealing, I was propelled by the prospect of finally seeing one of my favorite bands play later that night. They absolutely didn’t disappoint and they’ve just gotten better and better in the dozen or so times I’ve seen them since.

While Needles//Pins is steeped in the tradition of the great Canadian garage rock and power pop of yesterday and today, the band isn’t afraid to evolve. Sonically they sound a bit like gravely-voiced Leatherface lead singer, Frankie Stubbs, fronting a high energy, major chord punk band that would be right at home on the Dirtnap Records roster. Their lyrics convey a sense of melancholy—like many of my favorite bands—while their music makes me want to smile and pound my fists in the air. We’re staring into the void, but we might as well try to have a good time doing it!

The band—started in 2009 as an excuse for three friends to hang out—have remained fiercely independent despite several records and some acclaim. We sat down talk about their love of ‘90s punk, broken amps, bad luck, and Prince. I walked away with the sense that, at their core, they’re still just a group of friends looking to have adventures together.

Adam – Guitar/Vocals
Tony – Bass
Macey – Drums

Check out what Needles//Pins are up to. They tour a lot.

Chris: Tony and Adam, you two grew up together.

Tony: Yeah, I grew up in the next town over from Adam, but he and I went to the same elementary and high school for a bit.

Adam: Tony was a few grades behind me.

Chris: Were you all friends at that time?

Tony: Not really until I was in high school proper.

Adam: We traded CDs when you were in grade seven.

Macey: [laughter] What CDs? Do you remember?

Adam: What was that record? You got it for your birthday and I had seen an ad for it in the HeartattaCk fanzine or whatever? Ah, what was it? Blue cover.

Tony: ….the one that has that Nils cover on it.

Adam: Yeah! Fuck! What was the band called? It had like a dog on the cover.

Tony: Sinkhole!

Macey: Oh, weird. I would not have guessed that!

Chris: You bonded over Sinkhole CDs.

Adam: Yeah, I don’t know what I would have traded Tony at that point. Probably like a Propagandhi CD or something.

Tony: Yeah probably Less Talk, More Rock.

Adam: Actually, I had that on vinyl. It had a lock groove after the first song so it kept going “stop consuming animals. Stop consuming animals. Stop consuming animals…” [laughter]

Chris: I don’t have that version!

Adam: It’s on the first press.

Macey: That’s dope!

Adam: It was the first song. It’s like thirty seconds long and immediately you’re like, “Shit, now I’ve got to pick up the needle!”

Chris: Was it difficult to find punk stuff in small town Canada?

Tony: Our town was incredible, actually.

Chris: What’s it called?

Tony: It’s called Almonte.

Macey: What’s the population?

Tony: About 4,500 or so. Some of the people who were a little bit older than us—like my brother and his group of friends—they basically fostered a scene in this small town.

Adam: Yeah, they were all into the Ebullition Records hardcore scene. And, actually, I bought Less Talk, More Rock when Propagandhi played our high school gym.

Tony: That show was so sick.

Chris: Is there a video of that? I feel like recently I saw some old footage of Propagandhi playing a high school gym in Canada around that time.

Adam: There’s a video of them playing the night before at a church in Ottawa. I was also at that show.

Chris: Okay, yeah, but it was some kind of an auditorium, right?

Adam: Yeah, it was like a church hall.

Chris: Okay, so you two kind of came up into punk together.

Tony: Yeah, we used to go to shows at the youth center. I saw Adam’s old bands play all the time.

Adam: The youth center was a converted convent and was an official stop on the Jade Tree touring circuit. So all those bands like Promise Ring and Joan Of Arc played there. Harriet The Spy played there.

Tony: I also learned how to screen-print there.

Adam: Oh yeah, they had screen-printing classes.

Tony: I was making bootleg Lifetime shirts. For myself. I wasn’t selling them.

Chris: So how did Needles//Pins become a band?

Tony: I moved to Vancouver when I was sixteen to finish high school and snowboard. One day I ran into Adam at a wedding and he told me he was moving. When he first got here he moved to the other side of town so we didn’t see each other that often. But he ended up needing a house and I suggested he move into a basement suite in my neighbor’s house. So we became neighbors.

Adam: We were originally going to do a record label.

Tony: Well, we did!

Chris: I didn’t know you had a record label. What was it called?

Tony: Scum Buzz Records.

Adam: We put out the first Needles//Pins 7”, the Slow Learners 7” and we did a couple cassettes. Just local Vancouver stuff.

Tony: And that was it. We quickly realized we weren’t very good at that. [laughter] You have to be organized.

Adam: Yeah, I don’t know how you do it. Like, sending people things in the mail? That’s terrible. I hated doing that.

Chris: Well, the post office is a terrible place. I don’t even go there anymore. I just put packages on my front porch and have the mail person pick them up.

Tony: It wasn’t even the post office, really. I would just sit there, look at stuff, and be like “Oh, man, I have to pack this stuff up?”

Adam: Yeah. Which is ironic, too, because when I order stuff, I’m like, “Where is it? Why isn’t this at my house yet?” But when I was on the other end of it, I’d just be like “Eh, I’ll get to it when I get to it.” [laughter]

Macey: Anyways, they started the band and I met them because I was dating one of their friends.

Adam: Yeah, we started the band and would jam in Tony’s basement. I had my guitar sent out from Ottawa because I didn’t even bring it when I moved. His roommate had this tiny little practice amp that I’d plug into.

Tony: Like a Marshal 10 watt.

Adam: Tony got on Craigslist and bought a bass and this little Line 6 box that he’d plug into. He’d run that into his computer and then a line into the home stereo from there… that was his bass amp. [laughter]

Macey: And they just asked me to play drums. I had only played drums in one band about ten years before that. We got drunk a few times and they kept asking me. I was like “No, no. I don’t want to.”

Needles//Pins
Adam: Macey thought I was quote, unquote “a fucking poseur.” [laughter]

Macey: I just felt like when we were first hanging out, I would bring up something about punk or music he’d just, like, know everything about it. I thought he was so obnoxious. And I was just like, “He doesn’t know shit. This guy’s in a normal sweater. He’s just a normal guy.” Things are obviously different now. But, yeah, I finally caved. We learned a White Wires cover at our first practice and at that point I was all in.

Chris: And then Tony got an amp.

Tony: I did. I don’t have one right now, but….

Adam: Tony has never really had an amp.

Macey: You bought one and it lasted like three months or something.

Tony: I bought a lemon.

Adam: Did you ever.

Tony: That was an expensive amp, too.

Macey: And now he won’t commit to buying another one.

Adam: To be fair, I haven’t had a working guitar amp in forever, because it just sits broken while I renew the rental on the one I’m using every month. It costs fifty dollars a month while it would probably cost about fifty dollars to get my amp fixed, so….

Macey: We are lazy. We are a fucking lazy band. [laughter]

Chris: Okay, so shifting topics a bit. Your first record is called 12:34 and I’m really curious about the significance of that number.

Macey: It’s just a number that I’ve always seemed to notice. I started associating it—especially the time 12:34—as an omen that I’m on the right path in my life. Also, whenever I was feeling indecisive about something or worried about whether I’m making the right choices, if that number popped up I would take it to mean that I needed to roll with whatever I was thinking or talking about at that time. And it would always work out pretty well for me.

Chris: Okay, so it’s a good omen.

Macey: It’s definitely a good omen.

Adam: I feel like it used to be a bad omen.

Tony: Yeah, I thought it started as a bad omen. You almost didn’t get on a flight because of it.

Macey: Well, here’s the thing. It was a great omen until I met Joel Butler…

Adam: Redacted!

Macey: We were in a bar one night and I said something about it being 12:34 AM. He asked me what that meant and after I explained it to him, he said, “That’s probably the time you’re going to die.” And ever since then it just sort of changed.

Chris: What happened with the flight?

Macey: Well, I actually ended up dating Joel and he lived in a different city. So I was flying to see him and my arrival time was 12:34, which I would usually take as a good omen. But I just had his voice in the back of my head saying, “It’s probably the time you’re going to die.” I got on the flight, but it was like one of those ten-seaters in the middle of the winter while it was like thirty below. When we were landing, the turbulence was crazy and I was convinced that the plane was going down. I think I still have the ticket somewhere. I keep parking tickets that say 12:34. I keep receipts if they say 12:34.

Adam: In Macey’s old apartment, she had a ton of non-functioning clocks that were all set to 12:34.

Chris: So it’s just like this number that you see everywhere.

Macey: All the time.

Tony: Once she pointed it out, I found myself noticing it constantly.

Macey: I think it’s just one of those things. My sister’s number is 420, of course, because she loves smoking weed. So ever since we had that conversation, when I see 420 I’m like, “I’m going to smoke weed tonight.”

Tony: This past year on 4/20, I ordered two taquitos and the total came to four dollars and twenty cents.

Macey: Woah, you won weed lottery!

Tony: I wasn’t even high.

Macey: Well, I would have taken that as a sign that you were meant to go get high. [laughter] So, anyway, when we recorded the first album, it just sort of happened. We weren’t really planning on calling it anything.

Adam: We were all at a house show after a day of recording…

Tony: Yeah, I remember Macey saying “This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to call the record 12:34 and the cover is going to be a photo of my lip tattoo.” I think we even used the photo we took from that night.

Chris: So do you all have any other superstitions?

Tony: How much time do you have? [laughter]

Adam: There’s a lot of knocking on wood in this band.

Macey: Yeah, I mean I used to go to counseling and we would talk about this stuff. My counselor would tell me that I had some very bad habits and I’d be like, “I know, I know,” while knocking on wood.

Adam: Macey used to have a wooden ring so she that there would always be wood available.

Macey: I had to take it off as part of my… training? [laughter] My reprogramming.

Adam: Yeah, that’s a better word for it.

Chris: Well we’re currently sitting on a wooden deck. This is like systemic desensitization.

Macey: Yeah, I feel like I’m doing great.

Adam: There are a lot of things to knock on out here.

Chris: So you all have been a band for a while and have done some touring. I know it can be difficult to get into the U.S. as a Canadian band, but it also seems like it’s pretty difficult to tour in Canada.

Tony: Yeah, it’s just so big. I mean, basically, from Vancouver you can play Calgary and Edmonton, which are a day’s drive away. And then Winnipeg is another day away.

Adam: An eight-hour drive would be considered a short day.

Tony: From Winnipeg, the next place you can play is maybe a day and a half away.

Adam: You could play Thunder Bay.

Macey: Well, you can play Thunder Bay but chances are that no one would show up to your show.

Tony: The country is just so big. For us to even play out of town, we basically have to cross a border, take a ferry, or drive ten hours. It’s a pain.

Adam: We actually just decided to fly to Calgary to play Sled Island Fest instead of driving this year.

Macey: I have this old van with a V8 engine and it actually costs about six hundred dollars in gas to get us there while it was nine hundred dollars to fly. Spending the extra money seemed worth it when we took into consideration that we would save twenty-four hours of driving and wouldn’t have to take nearly as much time off of work.

Chris: Can you describe your van, Macey?

Macey: It’s a 1979 Chevy van with two mushroom windows. It’s a beast and it’s beautiful. It doesn’t have a sink so I don’t think I can claim that it’s fully camperized, but it’s partially camperized.

Adam: We’ve slept in it a lot.

Macey: Oh yeah. I mean, I could rent it out in Vancouver.

Adam: You could totally Airbnb it.

Tony: Once, at the border the guard said we looked like we were coming from a Cheech and Chong concert. He was genuinely insulted by the van.

Adam: He really was. He was like, “How dare you try to drive into America in this van.” He was pissed.

Chris: Did he let you into the country?

Adam: Yeah.

Macey: Didn’t he ask us where the weed was at?

Adam: He was like, “If I put my dogs on this van am I going to find pipes or screens or anything?”

Tony: He also said something about the magic mushroom windows and Macey was like, “No, they’re spades.”

Chris: Sorry sir, those are spades. You must be tripping. [laughter]

Tony: Yeah, he was the one obsessing over mushrooms.

Chris: Hasn’t your van been in some music videos?

Tony: Yeah, it’s been in two Pup videos.

Macey: Actually three, because they made a cartoon and there’s a cartoon version of our van in it!

Tony: Those bastards!

Macey: Yeah, I’ve never met them but my friend makes their videos. It’s also been in a Courtneys video. It’s been in two Eating Out videos. And it’s been in lots band photos.

Tony: It’s never been in a video of ours.

Macey: Not yet. [laughter]

Chris: A couple of years ago when I came to Vancouver for the Shamebirds record release show, Adam told me that he was going to be in some movie and I didn’t really think much of it. I had totally forgotten about that conversation until about a year later when I was on a flight somewhere and the in-flight movie was If I Stay. [laughter]

Chris: So Needles//Pins was in this movie?

Macey: Adam and Tony were in the movie. Needles//Pins’ music was in it.

Chris: Okay, Needles//Pins were, like, the dad’s punk band when he was younger…

Adam: The Nasty Bruises.

Macey: And the dad was the drummer so I wasn’t actually in the movie, but I taught him how to play on one of our songs. That guy was really nice. James something.

Tony: He’s the guy from Blair Witch Project.

Macey: Oh! You’re right!

Chris: So how did that come about?

Tony: Someone from a band we played with once contacted us because he worked for the person curating the music. They were auditioning bands to play the teenager band but they also needed an old person band. So we got called in for the old person band, of course. [laughter]

Tony: So it was just a kind of cold call situation, and we decided to go for it because we all needed money at the time.

Adam: We dragged all our shit to the audition. They didn’t even have a P.A. We had to put a mic in a guitar amp and played two songs, “Drop It” and “Outta This Place.”

Tony: And they ended up using “Outta This Place” in the movie.

Adam: They commissioned the guy from Redd Kross to do a song and they bumped it in favor of ours. Probably because it was cheaper. [laughter]

Macey: The director was actually sitting in on the audition and he loved Adam. He said he wanted to make the movie as authentic as possible and basically just asked him to be in the movie on the spot.

Chris: Adam what were your lines in that movie?

Adam: My two lines were “Stand down woman! You’re already knocked up!” and “Amen sister.” [laughter] Still got it!

Tony: And he got a trailer for that shit!

Adam: I got a trailer and every morning they’d be like, “Breakfast sandwiches!” Hell, yeah, breakfast sandwiches!

Tony: Meanwhile I was in a tent huddled around a propane heater with all the other extras.

Chris: So Tony, you didn’t have a speaking part, but you were also in the movie. You played acoustic guitar in the scene where they are playing “Today” by the Smashing Pumpkins in the backyard. That was like a thirty-second scene but how long did that take?

Tony: It was about a seven-hour day. And, initially, I was supposed to be sitting down with the guitar, but they decided they wanted me to stand up. I didn’t have a strap and it was horrible. And I don’t even like the Smashing Pumpkins.

Adam: I had to go into the studio and record a version of that song because I had to do a duet with the male lead, since we were both singing it around the campfire.

Needles//Pins
Tony: The first day of shooting I showed up just wearing my normal clothes and the women coordinating the extras was like, “Oh, cool. This is perfect. You’re supposed to be an aging punk rocker who just can’t let go” and I was just like, “Uh, yeah. That’s what I was going for.” It took me a long time to find clothes to fit that role but… [laughter]

Adam: And the shit they had me wear was fucked. Like in the flashback scene they made me wear some long, curly wig with a sleeveless leather vest. But here were a couple things that I thought were cool about that movie. The first being that my wife in the movie was Willow from CSI. And the second thing was that Mireille Enos who plays the mom is in the show The Killing, which I love.

Macey: Oh yeah, she’s so great in that.

Adam: But she is married to Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Macey: Oh!

Adam: So I came out of the trailer one night and he was just standing outside waiting for her.

Tony: Another injustice served!

Chris: You were probably huddled around that propane heater at the time.

Tony: Fighting for just a little bit of heat.

Adam: If anything, though, the experience made me realize I never want to do anything like that again.

Chris: It’s not for you?

Adam: Whenever I would be in hair and make-up, people in there would just gossip and shit talk. They’d ask me, “So how’d you get this?” and I’d say, “I don’t know. My band got asked to be in it and they asked me if I wanted some lines.” And that just seemed ridiculous to people in the industry. Like, “What?!? That never happens! You should get head shots! You should keep going with this!” No. Absolutely not.

Tony: It ruined movies for me for a while because I would just imagine all of the weird shit going on in the background.

Adam: Ugh, I couldn’t imagine doing that for a living.

Chris: I did look you up on IMDb though, and you’re totally there.

Adam: As well I should be! Number one movie in Russia when it came out, I do believe. [laughter]

Chris: So I’m curious if anyone in this band loves anything more than Macey loves Prince?

Adam: Probably not.

Macey: I still cry about him being gone.

Chris: So where did your love of Prince come from?

Macey: I think I was about nine when Purple Rain came out and my sister and I just became obsessed with the movie and with him in general. My dad owned Prince records before that, but after Purple Rain came out, we were just like, “Woah, he’s really cool!” And that feeling just never really left. I mean, when he did Prince And The New Power Generation and the Batman soundtrack, I sort of lost interest at that time.

Adam: I forgot that he did the Batman soundtrack.

Macey: Around that time I became a punk, and when you’re young and you become a punk you don’t listen to anything but punk.

Chris: Oh, yeah, I can relate to that.

Macey: Yeah, I was embarrassed to tell anyone I like Led Zeppelin or The Doors.

Adam: You should still be embarrassed about The Doors.

Macey: No way! The Doors forever and ever! I love them very much. But, yeah, in my late teens and early twenties, I was fully into punk and hardcore and wouldn’t dare tell anyone I liked Prince.

Chris: Did you still listen and try to hide it?

Needles//Pins
Macey: I think if I heard a Prince song on the radio, I’d definitely turn it up and listen, but it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I realized I like what I like and don’t give a fuck what anyone has to say about it. I mean really, if you claim that you don’t like any pop music, you’re either a liar or so weird that we can’t be friends.

Chris: Yeah, I think the older I get the less the term guilty pleasures means anything.

Adam: The guilty goes away.

Chris: Okay, so it seems like the process for writing your most recent record Goodnight, Tomorrow was quite a bit different than previous records. How long did it take to record, start to finish?

Tony: Almost two years. We wrote in batches—two or three songs at a time—and then we’d go in to record them.

Chris: I would be afraid that recording that way would result in a record that sounded like it was recorded in pieces.

Adam: Oh, totally! Because that is exactly how it was recorded. Luckily, I don’t think that happened, but that was definitely on my mind. Another fear was that we wouldn’t know when to stop.

Chris: Oh yeah, I could see that. I’ve heard people who record records at home say they have the same issue. Like, why not put fifty fucking guitars on this track?

Adam: This needs a harpsichord! Let’s do it!

Chris: Why did you decided to record that way?

Tony: I don’t really think it was a decision. Adam just had a couple of songs and we decided to go in and record them…

Adam: On the other hand, our other records were recorded pretty quickly. Like, you write a batch of songs and you go into the studio for a few days and just crank out a record. And every single time we did that, there were things on those records that I either wished we would have either added or done differently. And I didn’t want to do another record like that. This one just feels complete.

Chris: I can’t say that I’ve ever been on a record that doesn’t have a ton of stuff I’d love to change.

Adam: Yeah! And I’m not saying that there aren’t things on that record that I would change, but it’s minimal.

Macey: I can’t think of anything really.

Tony: For me, there is one song that I think is a bit faster than it should be. That’s it.

Macey: And you’re wrong. It’s fine.

Adam: Well yeah, but that’s just a little personal thing. It’s not structural. It’s not like you’re thinking that this song is lacking because it doesn’t have something that it should.

Chris: And in this process, you all actually picked up a fourth member.

Adam: Yeah, Jesse Gander. He engineered and produced the record.

Chris: So how did he come to join the band?

Needles//Pins

Tony: Well, he ended up playing keyboard on about half the songs. We had been toying with the idea of having someone join on guitar.

Adam: Yeah, at various points in this band’s history we’ve talked about adding someone.

Macey: And always guitar.

Adam: And it just never worked out. But we were playing a show in October with Jesse’s band, Uptights, and I mentioned that we were thinking of adding keys to the band. He was like, “Well, can it be me?” Yeah! That would be ideal. I just figured he was super busy with his recording business.

Chris: Is he officially a member of Needles//Pins?

Adam: Oh yeah. One-hundred percent. We had things planned, like this Pacific Northwest trip, and the upcoming U.S. and Canada tour that he couldn’t do, but moving forward he’s in the band.

Tony: We’re going back to Europe and he’ll definitely come. We’re still adjusting to the idea of having a fourth person. I mean, we’re bad enough at communicating between the three of us.

Chris: So have you actually tried other people out before?

Adam: Well, years ago, for like one practice. But for whatever reason, it never really worked out. We’ve been a three-piece for so long, it’s difficult to bring someone else on. And Jesse, especially personality wise, just worked out.

Macey: Yeah, if he said tomorrow that he wanted to play guitar instead of keyboards I think we’d all say, “Okay, sure” because he works with us naturally. His personality just fits with this band.

Chris: Being a good fit personality-wise is really important.

Tony: I think it’s the most important thing, really! If someone can play guitar, they can play guitar. But they can still be a dick. And we already have one dick in this band. I’m not saying who it is, but we don’t need another one!

Check out what Needles//Pins are up to. They tour a lot.